Monday, April 24, 2017

12 Steps for the Recovering Pharisee

I came across these 12 painfully poignant steps to overcoming pride in my Matthew commentary the other day. They are from John Fischer's 12 Steps for the Recovering Pharisee (Like Me) Minneapolis: Bethany, 2000. The following is not a direct quote. I have edited and changed the order of some of the steps.

In order to overcome pride . . .

1) We admit that our single most unmitigated pleasure is to judge other people.

2) We see that we have come to believe that our means of obtaining greatness is to make everyone lower than ourselves in our own mind.

3. We realize that we detest mercy being given to those who, unlike us, don't deserve it and haven't worked for it.

4) We are ready to have God remove all these defects of attitude and character.

5) We don't want to get what we deserve after all, and we don't want anyone else to either.

6) We will cease all attempts to apply teaching and rebuke to anyone but ourselves.

7) We embrace the belief that we are, and will always be, experts at sinning.

8) We are looking closely at the lives of famous men and women of the Bible who turned out to be ordinary sinners like us.

9) We are seeking through prayer and meditation to make a conscious effort to consider others better than ourselves.

10) We embrace the state of astonishment as a permanent and glorious reality. ( I think you have to read the book to understand this step.)

11) We choose to rid ourselves of any attitude that is not bathed in gratitude.

12) Now having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we will try to carry this message to others who think that Christians are better than everyone else.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Zombies

I know about the body. I know about the smell and decay and worms and shredded clothes and the crazed look you get in your eyes. I know how your thoughts turn again and again to flesh. The cravings come over you without warning, and you find yourself stalking your fellow man again and again. I know.

And I know the prayers you say hoping that you’ll be better tomorrow, that somehow, maybe you can cover it all up with flowers in your hair or makeup over your pocked skin or new clothes that might hide the blood still dripping from your mouth. But it never works. Does it? So you think yourself a muddy footprint, a stupid sheep, a failed attempt, garbage.

But that is not how I see you. I never saw you that way, not when you were born and not ever. So stop looking at that.

Remember. You are alive. Inside that corpse of death, I have revived the cold, hard heart. It beats. It burns. It radiates. 

It was rotting but now it’s alive, and I have made you fully human again. I am not ashamed of you or that corpse that you must operate until the end of your days. I know its encumbrances. I do not hold it against you. It is not you anymore anyway. Once it was all you had, but now it brings you back here again and again. Back to remembering the beating, burning, radiating light inside you. That is me.

You are my masterpiece, my workmanship, my temple, and the praise of my glory. You are my body. My body, worthy and complete, the place where I myself live so you live too. Nothing can hinder my spreading that pulsing, beating, burning light to the rest of you. Yes, to all of you because you are worth saving. 

You are worth freewill gone awry in the garden. You are worth the rebels' deaths in a flood. You are worth the preservation of my wandering people. You are worth the wars made to clear a space. You are worth the death of my prophets and you are worth the spit in my face.

It was my choice. My choice to give up all to give you what I have. I want to see you there with me, so I am bringing you in.

Stop looking at that carcass. Stop thinking of all that you should be doing to make yourself right and loved and lovely. See. I have done it already. You are.

Now live as only a son or daughter of mine can. Live alive.

"And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. 
But God, being rich in mercy because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, make us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is a gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them." Ephesians 2:1-10

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Divorce

It happens.

Like slavery happens.

However, you can't legally get away with owning slaves in the U.S. anymore, while divorce is readily acceptable both in and outside the church.

But so what if it's acceptable. Is it okay?

Perhaps God sees divorce and slavery similarly.

Slavery—some people owning others—was never what God wanted for his people. Certainly not. Slavery was what God rescued his people from in Egypt. And slavery is the image Paul used to speak of our bondage to hard-heartedness and sin and death. Certainly, it would seem odd for a Christian now-a-days to own slaves.

But it happened back then.

And divorce too—the dissolution of a marriage—was never what God wanted for his people. Of course not. Marriage was the symbol of Christ's union with the church. And God from the very beginning made us to be together, not lording over one another or breaking up the union.

But it happens.

And God knows it will happen.

He knows because he understands what sort of people we are. We are the hard-hearted sort who have the propensity to resist God and push away from those closest to us. We find comfort in hardening our hearts so no one can hurt us. We think it's a form of protection to "withdraw into one's own little world, recreating reality by rationalizing sinful activities and attitudes, casting blame on everyone else, and developing a veneer of bitterness that warps all relationships" (Wilkins, 653).

Left to ourselves, this is what we do. And it happens within the marriage long before couples ever sign any divorce papers. I suppose you could say, they divorce in their hearts before they divorce on paper. This heart-divorce is what God hates. The paper work is just a sign of what had already happened inside.

Similarly, murder is the proof of the hate within one's heart. Adultery is the proof of the lust. Boasting proof of the pride. And avoidance proof of the fear.

God cares about the heart. If there is to be made any improvement on our sorry condition, it must start in the heart. If any marriage is to be saved, if any relationship mended, or friends reconciled, it must start in the heart. And if the heart has not Jesus there, there is little hope.

Even if the heart has Christ, still is can remain hard and rely upon itself for protection and the pursuit of happiness. That is why God gave the Israelites—the people chosen to represent him to the world—some rules about divorce and how to treat slaves. The innocent had to be protected. The marriage, honored and respected.

One spouse may wish to work at the marriage while the other may be too hardened to try. One may be too hurt to give the marriage another try. Both may be shut off to each other. And that is not even mentioning adultery.

Two selfish beings trying to live together in love is bound to make trouble.

I suppose that is why Jesus' disciples said, "If this is the situation between a husband and a wife, then it is better not to marry" (Matt:19:10).

"Not everyone can accept this word, but only those to whom it has been given" Jesus replies (Matt 19:11).

Who has accepted this word? Who can continue in this way? Is it just the super-Christians? Jesus answers this question in the very next verse as he invites the children to come to him for the second time in the book of Matthew. Who can accept this word? Those who have child-like dependence on God.

"As weak, defenseless, vulnerable children, they must continue to maintain dependence on their heavenly Father for their purpose, power and significance of their life of discipleship" (Wilkins, 646).

It is only with this kind of dependence that we can become so secure in our identity as sons and daughters of God that we can give ourselves unreservedly in spite of our earthly circumstance, to serve others (Wilkins, 673). And it is in a marriage that serving and selflessness are most essential.

None of this competing for power or grappling for fulfillment. The hard-heart softens as this child-like dependency creates a heart that beats in sync with the Savior's.

Wilkins, Michael J. The NIV Application Commentary: Matthew. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2004.

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Born Deficient

We have been born deficient. Without the strength of unlimited power. Without the assurance of intrinsic value. Without the security of unconditional love. Without faith in an omniscient guide. Without the desire of real goodness. 

We have been born out of sorts. In need. Incomplete. With the best and worst of parents alike, we are deficient. And we are seeking to make-up for those deficiencies.

We seek it through positions that give us power. And relationships with people who appreciate us for who we are. And lovers that will never wound. And plans that will guarantee our future. And attempts at goodness that will erase our guilt.

But we are failing.

And it is easy to fail for we are looking for gold in the garbage and hoping to find pearls in the bowels of our prey. It’s no wonder that we’re wounded in the hunt. For we are asking our fathers to respect us when we are disrespectful. And asking our brothers to see our point of view when they are not in our heads. And asking our daughters to rise up and praise us when we are not the one to be praised.

When guilt and offense and fears and anger and hurt bubble up, it is not because those others have made us feel this way, but because this ugliness was inside us from the start. 

We have been born deficient. And it is only in Christ that our deficiencies are mended. In him only is the completion of power, worth, love, rest, and rightness. 

Then we will not take offense when they don’t treat us as we think they should. Because then will we see that it’s not against us that they fight but against their own deficiencies. 

Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.